Q&A: Author Kate Betts talks Michelle Obama’s style

The author talks to FLARE about why the First Lady is a modern style icon 

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Michelle Obama is quickly becoming a modern day fashion icon. With her every sartorial selection under a microscope, the First Lady of the United States is changing the fashion landscape by simply wearing what she loves. Through her accessible clothing choices, she has become the embodiment of fashion democracy—a result of her effortless knack for mixing high-end designers with fast-fashion styles. After all, who else can instantly sell out a J.Crew cardigan and project burgeoning design talents onto the international fashion map? According to Kate Betts, former Editor in Chief of Harper’s Bazaar and author of the new book Everyday Icon: Michelle Obama and the Power of Style, it is the First Lady’s unique mix of substance and style that make her a true icon. With her new book available in stores now, FLARE had the opportunity to chat with the author in detail about this dynamic woman who is becoming a powerful fashion force.

When do you think the world first really took notice of Michelle Obama? When was her first great fashion moment?

“Well, we were all watching her during the campaign, but I would say the first day of the Democratic convention, when she made her speech in that turquoise Maria Pinto dress, that was really the moment that everyone stopped and took notice. Also, I think election night, when she wore the red and black Narciso Rodriguez ‘lava lamp’ dress was a pretty major fashion moment for Michelle Obama.”

There has become a sudden fascination with the princess-to-be Kate Middleton’s wardrobe choices, do you think that Kate Middleton will do for little-known British designers what Michelle Obama has done for budding American design talents?

“Yes, I do. She has already done quite a lot for little-known brands like Issa and also for high street brands like Reiss and Marks & Spencer. Any woman in a public spotlight that big is going to help boost brands with her image. As Narciso Rodriguez said to me—and I quote him in my book—‘Such a huge force in fashion becomes fashion.’”

Why do you think there was such a backlash regarding the First Lady’s decision to wear an Alexander McQueen gown to the State Dinner with China?

“For some people what the first lady wears becomes a matter of national pride. But I really believe that Michelle Obama’s self-possession and confidence define American style better than any label stitched into her dress every will.”

Since coming to the White House two years ago how do you think the First Lady’s style has changed? Do you think that her wardrobe choices are at all constructed and used as a political tool?

“Of course, every image is a construct to a certain degree. Do I think she chooses some outfits for their political or public impact? Absolutely. Did she wear a $34 dress from H&M on the Today Show just because she felt like wearing it that day? No, that was definitely a statement on her part. Since coming to the White House I do think Michelle Obama has streamlined her image and her style a bit. Perhaps it’s just a function of her settling into the role and feeling more comfortable in her position. I thought the Rachel Roy white silver dress she wore to the State of the Union Address was a perfect example of this more streamlined style.”

What do you think is the one thing that makes Michelle Obama a true style icon?

“Her confidence and her accessibility. Style is not fashion, remember that. She is not a fashionista. She is all about style, about sticking to the same look—something that works for her—and being consistent about wearing that look. She doesn’t change with the fashion trends.”